When I was born in England in 1923 the estimated life expectancy for a newborn male was, with a bit of luck, around 40 years. And every decade or so from 1923 to the present, my “life expectancy ratio” forecast got a boost. In other words, the longer I lived the longer I could expect to live.
By 2020, the actuaries who keep track of these things were assuring us that we could enjoy 81 years … not exactly headline news for this wordsmith still blogging in 2020 in his 97th year. I remain well aware of my good fortune to have been blessed with genes that have now carried me well beyond two “best before” dates, first when I waved goodbye to my 40th birthday in1963 and realized I was indeed getting “old;” and now, remembering that next December I’ll be 98 and wondering who – or what – is turning the hands of the clock so fast.
I become easily irritated these days when I read the sweeping claims of the 2021 anti-vaccine, anti-face mask doomsayers who see nothing but evil in the research and dedication of medical doctors and scientists and armies of health care workers who, over the centuries, have brought the world protection against plagues that once ravaged the world unchecked.
Recently, Facebook and Twitter – unfettered platforms for anti-vaxxers’ outrageous objections to the vaccine program – have promised tighter checks on clients using their services to spread misinformation. In their reluctant concession, they have recognized that unfounded statements and false claims have been disseminated worldwide in the guise of free speech.
I reach back a little before Facebook and Twitter to my well-thumbed copy of Charles Panati’s (1989) Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody for answers. It’s a minor classic in that while Panati is dealing with plagues and disasters, he does so with an occasional touch of humour that makes the horror of many catastrophic events easier to face and fight.
When reporting on New York’s “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, 68, who sent to their graves or infected with typhoid an unknown number of victims in the 1870s, he writes: “Medically she was that immunological marvel: a person who carried a deadly agent without ever becoming sick, but who can kill others with a kiss or a meringue pie.”
Much of Panati’s reporting should fascinate today’s truth seekers as they read about Dr. Edward Jenner, the English country doctor who developed the vaccine and method of vaccination that led to the end of smallpox as a global pestilence – a brutal killer of millions until 1977 when it was finally defeated.
Like today’s vaccination attack on COVID-19, Dr. Jenner’s vaccine procedure faced a daunting public fear campaign and he was much maligned until smallpox was finally listed as defeated. Readers who have a genuine fear of vaccines might profit from an hour or two with Panati and pray that the men and women he portrays, facing and defeating centuries of health fear-mongering, never give up the fight.